‘Halloween': John Carpenter classic returns for theatrical run

Oct. 24, 2012 | 6:00 a.m.
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Michael Myers in John Carpenter's 1978 horror film "Halloween." (Trancas International Films)

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Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie Strode in John Carpenter's 1978 horror film "Halloween." (Trancas International Films)

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Jamie Lee Curtis stars in John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic "Halloween." (Los Angeles Times Archives)

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Jamie Lee Curtis on the set of John Carpenter's 1978 horror film "Halloween." (Los Angeles Times Archives)

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Writer/producer Debra Hill, left, and director John Carpenter in 1980. (Associated Press)

Michael Myers, the masked silent Shape that emerged from the shadows of Haddonfield, Ill., to stalk generations of moviegoers, will return to theaters Thursday for a re-release of John Carpenter’s landmark 1978 horror film “Halloween,” just in time for the Oct. 31 holiday.

Trancas International Films, in partnership with Compass International Pictures and Screenvision, will open “Halloween” in roughly 560 theaters in the U.S. and more in the United Kingdom this week, marking the widest release the film has had since its original run.

With the 35th anniversary of “Halloween” arriving next year, it seemed the right time to resurrect Carpenter’s classic in a proper theatrical setting, according to Justin Beahm, Trancas’ vice president of licensing and new media.

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“A majority of the people who are [fans of the franchise], most of them have never seen any of these movies in the theater,” Beahm said. “A lot of the originals, especially for people who don’t live in major cities with revival houses, they’ve never had a chance to experience them at all in the theater before. This is a nice way to reintroduce fans — reintroduce the world, in a way — to Michael Myers as the Shape.”

Although Myers has anchored nine films so far — with a new installment in the series being eyed for release next year — it’s fair to say that none has had the gut-punch impact of Carpenter’s original, which opens in 1963 with young Michael, clad in a brightly colored clown costume, stabbing his older sister on Halloween night.

Fifteen years later, Michael —referred to in the movie’s credits only as the Shape—escapes from the mental hospital where he has spent the intervening time locked in a prison of silence. The psychiatrist tasked with treating him, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), believes his patient to be a soulless monster driven only by an instinct to kill, and he sets out to stop Michael before he can claim another victim.

1978 movie review: Slaughter, fear in grisly ‘Halloween’

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Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s 1978 horror film “Halloween.” (Trancas International Films)

But even as Loomis lies in wait in Myers’ boyhood home, Michael stalks his old neighborhood where he terrorizes Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in her debut feature role).

“Halloween” became an unmitigated box-office hit, spawning a raft of imitators, even if reviews were mixed at first. Writing for The Times, critic Kevin Thomas described the film as a “well-made exercise in unredeemed morbidity” and found it “depressing” that Carpenter, a USC film school alumnus who had worked on the Oscar-winning live-action short “Resurrection of Broncho Billy,” had devoted his talents to such a “grisly” enterprise.

“Halloween,” of course, has grown in reputation and esteem over the decades — it’s generally seen as the culmination of a 10-year period stretching back to the release of George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968 that saw a crop of fearless provocateur filmmakers, including Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper, channel the widespread social unrest of the time into taboo-breaking horror cinema.

“They really caught lightning in a bottle with that film,” said Trancas president Malek Akkad, whose father, Moustapha Akkad, produced the original “Halloween” and seven subsequent films in the franchise before he lost his life in Jordan in 2005, the victim of a terrorist attack. “It’s just something that’s resonated throughout generation after generation. It’s even introduced the holiday Halloween to places in the world where they never celebrated it before.”

Though he’s generally considered a horror director in the broader cultural consciousness, despite a résumé peppered with science fiction, action-adventure and satiric titles, Carpenter told The Times in 2010 that he didn’t set out to work exclusively in the genre.

“I never got in this business, in cinema, to make horror movies,” Carpenter said. “They arrived on my doorstep and I got typecast. Which was fine, I enjoy it, but I got into this business to make westerns. And the kind of westerns I used to see, they died. So that didn’t work out.”

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Writer/producer Debra Hill, left, and director John Carpenter in 1980. (Associated Press)

Still, the filmmaker has come to embrace his past — he just accepted a lifetime achievement award from the horror film festival Screamfest L.A. and is set to appear for a Q&A at a rare 35 mm screening of “Halloween” on Saturday at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles as part of the inaugural Debra Hill Film Festival, named for his co-writer and producer on the film who died in 2005. Hill was a key creative partner for Carpenter, also working with the director on projects including “Assault on Precinct 13,” “The Fog,” “Escape from New York” and more.

To highlight what he calls the “cultural impact” of the “Halloween” films and the character of Michael Myers, Beahm directed a new 10-minute documentary narrated by Andrew Divoff titled “You Can’t Kill the Boogeyman,” which will screen in theaters with the “Halloween” re-release (detailed information about showtimes and tickets can be found at Halloweenonscreen.com).

The documentary includes interviews with a wide-ranging list of subjects: Del Howison of Burbank’s Dark Delicacies; actors Tyler Mane (who played Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s two “Halloween” films) and George Wilbur (“Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” and “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers”); and psychologist Dr. David Tolin, the founder and director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Institute of Living and an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine.

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(Trancas International Films)

In addition to his film duties, Beahm serves as a senior writer for Fangoria magazine and is working on an as-yet-untitled book about the historic nature of the horror series that is tentatively set for release late next year or in 2014, though the publisher has not been announced.

Beahm attributes the enduring appeal of “Halloween” and the unfeeling villain at its dark heart partly to the fact that Michael Myers has been treated in a more straightforward fashion than, say, such slasher movie stalwarts as Freddy Krueger in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies and Jason Voorhees in the “Friday the 13th” films.

“There was a commercial for Burger King a few years ago where Freddy was going through the drive thru,” Beahm said. “Michael has been kept free from all of that.”

Beyond that, though, he says that the “Halloween” movies have given form to the shapeless evils lurking in sunny suburbia, and for that, they’ve found an everlasting onscreen life.

“He isn’t a destination creature,” Beahm said. “In ‘Jaws,’ the shark’s only a threat when you’re in the water. In so many films, you have to venture into the darkness or into the mysterious whatever to find the creature. Michael exists in the shadows in our own homes. He’s in the closet. That never goes away, that’s always going to be relevant to people and there’s a real timelessness to it.”

– Gina McIntyre
Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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